AHM – Anti-Modal Voicings

This is the next installment of my compositional notes on using modes in harmony. Scroll down to check out the others and figure out what I mean with all of this propriety jargon. Like “Anti-Modal Voicings.” Wow.

One of the things I learned by writing the AHM etudes was that modal voicings, at least how I’ve been defining them, are rather unwieldy. Since those four etudes all stayed within the parent scale, it didn’t matter all too much, but once I started to mess with using these sorts of voicings in ways that did not stick to the parent scale it became apparent that they couldn’t just be thrown around. They couldn’t be used the same way that more stable quartal voicings or tertian voicings might with constant structure technique or in other typical non-functional patterns. The characteristic pitches found in each modal voicing created a dissonance that sometimes I plain disliked.

So I came up with the idea of the “anti” modal voicing. The criteria for creating an anti-modal voicing are exactly the same as regular modal voicings, except that the characteristic pitch(es) of the mode now are “avoid” notes. Since we’re trying to avoid that whole tritonal dissonance that gives modal voicings their entire flavor, anti-modal voicings sound rather…ordinary. In fact, its an extremely round-about way to get voicings and chords that are normally standard-fair for the jazz idiom. Take a look at these samples…(click for a larger picture)

You can quickly see that these voicings aren’t unique or even particularly indicative of the mode, and a lot of them are shared. While it’s possible to get a “modal flavor” and still qualify as an anti-modal voicing (the mixolydian voicing I suggested, for example), the majority of them have a very “major 7” or “minor 7” quality that isn’t particularly novel.

So why use them? And why attach this ridiculous jargon? Well, you can think of them the same way that you might thing about hybrid structure chords like D/C. Context gives them their meaning. D/C could very well “mean” a tonic C major chord within a functional context, even though it contains none of the chord tones of a C major chord. Or it could mean a D7 chord in third inversion in a different function context. The same thing applies to these anti-modal voicings. They’re ambiguous in function, and only gain function (a specific modal identity) when put within a certain context. This might mean putting them next to modal voicings from the same parent scale. For example, if you had an anti-modal voicing for D lydian b7, it could be made to sound like lydian b7 even without its characteristic pitches by placing it next to a modal voicings for C lydian #5.

The main point of this is simply to soften the dissonant effect caused by a string of modal voicings. When you’re just writing in a context all diatonic to a parent scale, this isn’t entirely necessary, but it can help create a better sense of tension/release. Otherwise, it can make the harmony a lot more palatable, especially when the harmonic rhythm occurs quickly.

Anyway, stay tuned for more theory and more music!

-Adam

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3 Responses to “AHM – Anti-Modal Voicings”


  1. 1 Mark Simos September 17, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Adam – If you think about all the textural possibilities between solo modal melodies over a (modal) tonic drone at one extreme, and full 7-note modal voicings (w/ characteristic tones) at the other, creating static dissonant blocks, there is a vast area to be explored in the intermediate zone where successions of ‘anti-modal’ voicings might preserve the modal feel with very different effect. The tritones would appear horizontally, and might be displaced at some distance depending on the sequence.

    I’m not sure ‘anti-modal’ is the best term, though, for voicings which are consistent with the mode’s scales, just not sufficient to unambiguously define that mode as a single vertical structure.

    Mark Simos

    • 2 Adam Neely September 17, 2010 at 10:03 pm

      Interesting concept, what exactly do you mean by tritones appearing horizontally? Are you talking about shifting to another voicing and then having the two tritones appear from that? Or would the tritones appear in the melody?

      Anti-modal voicing is a pretty cruddy term, true. Maybe, “non-descriptive voicing” and “descriptive voicing?” That might work.

      -Adam

    • 3 Adam Neely September 17, 2010 at 10:03 pm

      Interesting concept, what exactly do you mean by tritones appearing horizontally? Are you talking about shifting to another voicing and then having the two tritones appear from that? Or would the tritones appear in the melody?

      Anti-modal voicing is a pretty cruddy term, true. Maybe, “non-descriptive voicing” and “descriptive voicing?” That might work.

      -Adam


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Welcome to Adam Neely's blog/website. Check out his compositions, links, and information about lessons on the top bar, and enjoy the music!

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